Times sure seem tough for the aging rock gods of the 2000s.
With the indie rock boom of the early ‘00s far enough in the past to get its own definitive gossip-filled retrospective (Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book Meet Me In The Bathroom, out now via HarperCollins), the frontmen of the era’s defining bands are still figuring out how to stay hip with the times. That became evident one day in early March when two interviews dropped the same morning— one with the former Strokes singer Julian Casablancas in New York Magazine, the other with ex-White Stripes leader Jack White in Rolling Stone — painting both stars as out-of-touch geezers with slipping grasps on music trends.
Both White and Casablancas have new albums out this month — Casablancas’ new album with his band The Voidz titled Virtues (out March 30) and White’s latest solo effort Boarding House Reach (out Friday). And while early singles from Virtues sound like dead-eyed outtakes from lesser Strokes sessions, there’s very little on Boarding House Reach that could pass as White Stripes songs.
For casual Jack White listeners, his spoken-word wails on Everything You’ve Ever Learned and earnest speak-rapping on Ice Station Zebra may send them straight back to their Seven Nation Army Pandora station. Yet, Boarding House Reach is a welcome challenge to White’s reputation as a rocker who prizes his old-timey blues-rock over everything, an album that sees the singer turning to the Pro Tools production software for the first time (as he admitted to Rolling Stone) to add hip-hop beats and synth drones and other frenetic sonic flourishes to his palette.
All of this culminates in White’s oddest album to date, that wholly succeeds in its audacity, and is a little less successful at actually being a good piece of music. It’s fun to hear White’s gonzo funk experimentations, the pinnacle of which is Corporation’s squealing fever dream. And when Boarding House Reach does return to White’s blues-rock comfort zone, it’s a little more unhinged, and delightfully so, from Over and Over and Over’s snarling riffs over a choir of backing vocals to Respect Commander’s rock freakouts over the song’s multiple-act structure.
Less successful are the skits and spoken-word interludes, with confounding titles like Ezmerelda Steals The Show and Abulia and Akrasia , which only contribute to the album’s bloated runtime. And then, there’s the mortifying raps on Ice Station Zebra, which make the compelling case for White’s lifetime ban from anything resembling hip-hop.
Admittedly, Jack White hasn’t made it easy for fans to stick with him with his “old man yells at cloud” public presence he’s cultivated over the past decade, as seen on full display in his Rolling Stone interview, in which he chastised DJ Khaled’s Wild Thoughts for borrowing too liberally from Santana. Presumably, then, White’s Boarding House Reach album is his attempt to mash up musical styles in a more elevated manner than Khaled’s less refined recordings. And while White gets credit for pushing his sound beyond White Stripes retreads on Boarding House Reach, the album’s clunkier moments show hes not the genre-transcending savant hed like to be.